In the United Kingdom, the term, state school, refers to government-funded schools which provide education free of charge to pupils. The contrast to this are fee-paying schools, often called "independent schools", "private schools" or "public schools" (in the UK only; in the US, for example, public schools are government-funded).
According to the Good Schools Guide,
In the UK, state schools exist in a bewildering variety of forms. Over the last hundred years, successive governments have struggled to improve education by reforming its structure, over and over again. What all state schools have in common is that they are entirely free to parents, being funded through taxation.
In England and Wales the term public school is often used to refer to fee-paying schools. "Public" is used here in a somewhat archaic sense, meaning that they are open to any member of the public, distinguished from religious schools which are open only to members of that religion. Some people call only the older fee-paying schools, public schools, while others use the term for any such school.
In Scotland, where the educational system is distinctly different from the rest of UK, the term public school was once used officially to describe state schools (being, as they were, publicly owned) - although preference is now being given to the term 'state school'. Use of public school in Scotland is ambiguous in definition as it can be used in both contexts as schools such as Fettes College in Edinburgh are often considered alongside other independent private schools; however, the peculiarly Scottish use of the term has found favour abroad, particularly in the United States and Canada.
The National Curriculum is followed in all state schools in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. In Northern Ireland secondary-level schools are divided into Grammar schools, Secondary schools and Catholic-maintained schools, with an increasing number of Integrated schools. There are also a small number of voluntary Irish Language schools.
Throughout education in the UK, state schools are under the control of local councils (Local Education Authorities in England and Wales; Department of Education in Northern Ireland), save for cases where independent schools are funded directly as in City Academies. Thus in the great majority of cases the phrase "state school" is a misnomer, and the more correct term maintained school is used in technical literature.
Some state schools, known as faith schools, are dedicated to the teaching and indoctrination of a single religion. Some maintained schools are partially funded by religious or other charitable bodies; these are known as voluntary aided schools or voluntary controlled schools.
State school is also a term used somewhat condescendingly or derisively by students and alumni of some "University of" schools to refer to "State University" schools of the same state, e.g., referring to any California State University from the perspective of the University of California.